why teens lie

Most teens lie to their parents. A 2004 Journal of Youth and Adolescence study of high school and college students found that 82% had lied to their parents at least once in the previous year. While none of us want our children to lie, it is important to understand why teens lie and what should be done about it.

Why Kids Lie

The Journal of Youth and Adolescence study notes that most of the surveyed teens lied because they felt they had the right to make their own decisions. It also notes that the more control parents try to exert on their children, the more likely the children are to lie. Not surprisingly, boys tend to lie at higher rates than girls.

But these are just some of the factors contributing to dishonesty. Kidsinthehouse.com notes there are 3 common reasons why teens lie:

  1. To cover their tracks — Teens will sometimes lie when they’ve done something wrong like forget to turn in an assignment, fail a test, scratch the car, etc.
  2. To get out of something they don’t want to do — Teens may lie when they avoid doing chores, studying, etc.
  3. To fit in with peers — The pressure to fit in can influence kids to make poor choices, including lying.

What types of lies do teens tell?

Lying in teens generally comes in one of three forms:

  1. Lying by avoidance — When teens don’t want to talk about something like a failed test, they can lie by avoidance. They may come home from said test and want to talk about soccer practice or their friends or whatever. As long as they don’t have to talk about the thing they are trying to avoid, they have achieved their goal.
  2. Lying by omission — This is the most common form of lying in teens. They may mention they are going over to a friend’s house, but leave out the part about their parents being out of town. Giving you some of the details can lull you into a sense of security while also limiting the repercussions for your teen. After all, nothing they said was overtly incorrect.
  3. Lying by commission — When your teen says they have done their homework and turned it in, even though it’s untrue, that’s lying by commission. This is less frequent, but can do the most to undermine trust, notes Psychology Today.

The Most Common Lies Teens Tell

It’s important to know that most lies aren’t grand schemes by your teen — they are small. The most common lies they tell are:

  • I already did it
  • I didn’t do it
  • I’ll do it later
  • I didn’t know
  • I forgot
  • I didn’t think you’d mind
  • I didn’t know that’s what you meant
  • I didn’t think you were serious
  • It wasn’t my fault
  • It was an accident

What Can You Do About Teen Lying?

Lying can have real costs for your teen. Parents obviously need to address dishonest behavior and communicate how lying can impact the dynamic with family and friends. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with lying:

  • Detail the costs of lying behavior — hurt, loss of trust and more
  • Let your teen know how it feels to be lied to
  • Communicate about the lying, why it occurred, what other choices could have been made and how to limit lying in the future
  • Let your teen know lying will always have consequences
  • Let your teen know you will restore trust, because that’s what healthy families do

When Teen Lying Becomes a Problem

Everyday lies, like those listed above, are much less serious than some types of lies that could be covering up unsafe behavior like alcohol and drug abuse. If you uncover these types of lies, it is time to seek resources and support.

For some families, the resources at Shepherd’s Hill Academy may be a valuable solution. Our therapeutic boarding school is well-versed in dealing with teen issues. Through our nature-based therapeutic component, teens are removed from their comfort zone, as well as peer pressure and technology. If you are wondering if Shepherd’s Hill Academy can help your family, take our quiz and learn more about the programs we offer.